Archive for March, 2007
Frank met Michael through the Donna Summer Fan Club. ‘Official members’ of the club paid annual dues to receive backstage insight into the life of the ‘70s disco superstar. A monthly newsletter, printed on what was obviously stolen copy paper from the editor’s 9-5 job didn’t offer much news on Donna Summer. Frank and Michael knew everything there was to know about the music icon but they paid $30 a year just to be sure they didn’t miss any gossip regarding the music industry’s first ‘Bad Girl’.
There was a classified “let’s become Donna Summer pen pals” section on the last page of the tacky, Xeroxed fan club paper. That’s how they met, as pen pals, through the official Donna Summer fan club. I thought their union was creepy.
“I’m going to write this guy,” my lover Frank explained while reading the newsletter in a lawn chair in the back yard. I was picking lady bugs from my pumpkin vines and releasing them into the yard next door.
“You should write him. The two of you are the only two Donna Summer fans still alive,” I said while watching a tiny red bug with black dots on its wings slowly walk around the tip of my finger.
Michael owned a vinyl copy of a rare Donna Summer record– “Sometimes Like Butterflies” that Frank just had to get his hands on, so Frank popped a letter in the mail to the New York resident who placed an ad in the quarterly indicating that he had in his collection an original copy of Frank’s favorite song in the world. (The song was actually on the “B” side of another Donna release from the early ’80, but because technology was changing, it was nearly impossible to find a copy of the record.
Three days later, Michael came to our house. I was busy preparing steak au pauve on a gas grill while the two became acquainted.
Our little dinner party was like a reunion of Star Trek junkies. They spoke of Donna’s music and ignored my pleas to change the music on the stereo to something with more of a slow tempo.
Frank quickly ran inside, removed a cassette tape that was playing the song “She Works Hard for the Money,” and put on “Hot Stuff” as if none of us had ever heard the song.
“There. Is that better?” He asked me. “He just loves this song, Michael. He loves it. He can’t get enough of it.”
“That’s not what I was requesting,” I said while slamming down my outdoor spatula right in front of where Michael, a Hawaiian was sipping an ice cold glass of Jack Daniels whiskey.
We had a guest. I had to bite my tongue, Frank thought. My parnter of eight years gave me a scolding look. I couldn’t just storm into the living room and put on George Michael’s “Faith”. I had to pretend I was enjoying “Hot Stuff”.
Our guest Michael couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The music was blasting and Frank had so much to say. I was worn out from listening to Frank talk about Donna Summer for almost a decade. Michael was a fresh set of ears, attached to a heart, that loved Donna Summer. I knew my lover was excited by making a new friend who appreciated the Queen of Disco.
“Do you think he’s gay?” Frank asked after Michael left the house.
I rolled my eyes like a bad girl and didn’t say a word.
Frank managed to squeeze Michael’s copy of “Sometimes Like Butterflies” from his pen pal’s collection. Frank traded his autographed copy of the album “Bad Girls” that Donna Summer signed for him personally when he was 16. (Actually it was not an original Donna Summer autograph, Frank signed it on her behalf, like secretaries sometimes do for their bosses.)
The trade was what both subscribers to the Donna Summer fan club were looking for when they first paid their annual dues to the members only newsletter organization. We had Michael over for dinner a lot over the years. Frank and Michael became as inseparable as Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer on the cover of twelve inch single, “Enough is Enough”.
They started to leave me out of conversations over dinner in the back yard as they talked on and on about false news reports claiming that Donna Summer was really a man.
“Yes! You are absolutely right, Frank,” Michael said. “That drag queen story nearly ruined her. You have to admit, in that wig, she looked like a man.” At that moment my suspicions were correct. Michael was a flaming Donna Summer queen too.
“She never should have told the world she was born again,” Frank explained. “That was the cake she left out in the rain. She had no idea that it was gay men who made her famous, with other performers of the 1970’s like the Village People, Queen and Elton John.””
“Do you remember when the claim surfaced that Donna Summer made the statement– “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve shortly after her born again claim?” Frank asked.
“Yes. They burned all her records in a bonfire in the West Village. Gays were so upset with her for saying that AIDS was God’s way of punishing gays,” Frank suggested to Michael. I was too busy cooking and listening to them trying to come up with ways to relaunch the disco queen’s fading career to suggest that perhaps her loss in popularity had more to do with her former record label, and not an angry gay mob. I remembered what happened to George Michael in 1990 when he decided to change his pop image– how the owners of Sony decided not to effectively promote the follow-up to “Faith”. Perhaps the same thing happened to Donna.
Frank blasted Donna’s latest CD “Mistaken Identity” the moment I was about to offer my theory on the has-been disco diva.
“The album is quite good,” I had to admit to my lover and his friend. “It’s such a shame that nobody is going to buy it,” I predicted.
“She sounds a little like Stevie Nicks,” I said while placing a fresh salad on the plastic outdoor table.
Michael and Frank were shocked. I never had anything to say nice about Donna Summer– especially after all the comments she supposedly once made against gays.
“So you are admitting it Charles?” They asked while trying to get me to admit that Donna’s music is irresistibly fabulous.
“No, I’m just trying to get you to shut up and listen to other artists without prejuice,” I explained while chaning the CD on the stereo …
It has been almost six years since white folks started moving into Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Crackers are absorbing the flava of this soupy neighborhood and taking advantage of the inexpensive rents found here. They started invading the hood three years ago, like an infestation of salt marsh caterpillars in a cotton field. My lover Shawn and I lived in a run down, three-family house on Quincy Street when the neighborhood was still a crack haven—a place where only poor Black folks and a few adventurous white people like me dared to reside. We made a love nest in the little red brick house, just off of DeKalb Avenue–down the street from the new Bravo Supermarket. We lived here long before the neighborhood turned trendy, thanks to the Caucasians with their pure breed dogs and Gucci bags.
Living on the first floor of a poorly insulated building was uncomfortable the first winter here, but the place had a backyard and warmed up quite a bit in the spring and summer. There was no door leading from our apartment into the overgrown lot just outside the bedroom window at the back of the house, but we had a back yard, and very few New Yorkers can say that. We crawled in and out as we pleased.
In 2007, despite the edible cherries and apples that grow in abundance back here, none of my new neighbors on Quincy Street sit outside in their back yards. This is my oasis—a holy land of sorts. It’s difficult for me to leave this apartment now that I’ve remodeled and landscaped the outdoor area. The seeds of so many fond memories are planted in this once empty plot.
On warm summer mornings, after nights of popping Ecstacy and smoking weed, Shawn and I would crawl out of the bedroom window, sit outside in our underwear, and watch the sun rise over the grapevines and fruit trees that someone took the time to plant in the yard next door, eons ago. It must have been at least 30 years ago when those trees were first planted. The trunks and limbs are huge now. The branches extend over a chain-link fence into my yard like the hands of time offering forbidden fruits that are actually quite safe to eat.
Shawn never saw a cherry tree before. He thought the little red fruits grew on bushes. We laughed and ate a few. There was nowhere to sit back here when Shawn was still alive, and rats were everywhere. I gave him a blow-job by the grape vines at the back of the yard just for the thrill of knowing that our upstairs neighbor, Tony Vega could see us making out.
“Wassup, guys? You got some bud? Yo, I’m coming down. We should bar-b-q back here,” Tony shouted from the fire escape on the third floor while standing in his navy blue sweatpants, obviously not wearing any underwear.
“Come on down Tony! Join the picnic. Dick tastes better when eaten outside,” I offered. Shawn and I laughed. Tony didn’t think it was funny.
We didn’t mind Tony watching us—perhaps that is why we went out into the poison ivy covered yard in the first place– just to tease him. Shawn and I were both exhabitionists, we loved showing off our tools of the trade.
“Pull it out Adam—put it here,” I giggled, pretending to be Eve. Tony, playing the part of the serpent nearly fell from the fire escape. It was easier for me to deep-throat him in the back yard under the cover of the fruit trees with an audience.
“You’re ass drives me insane,” He said. “Cum on me and prove it!” I demanded.
“Holy shit,” Tony gasped while crawling back inside his window but we knew he was still watching me take all ten inches without burping.
Back then, the garden was filled with spare tires, decomposed diapers along with rusty tin cans. There wasn’t much room to plant things. Shawn and I had plans to move to Los Angeles in a few months, we didn’t bother turning the lot into the garden it is now.
I spent the morning after he died weeding out the poison ivy and throwing all the rubbish next door into the neighbor’s yard.
“Why don’t you go down to the hospital to identify his body, Charles?” His best friend, Dyanashaw asked.
“No. I’ve had enough of that fucking hospital. I’m tired,” I said to her. “Will you do it please? I’m so tired. I can’t see him dead,” I explained.
“Yes, I will. I understand. Do you want me to get you a lock of his hair?” She asked.
“What would I want with some of his hair? What am I supposed to do with that?” I shouted into the phone while crying uncontrollably. Perhaps if I went and got one of his braids and planted it in the backyard, he would have grown back. The soil back here is fabulous—high in nutrients and there are lots of earth worms.
While she was at the hospital offering a positive identity of his dead body and gathering pieces of his dreadlocks like a slave picking cotton in a field, I was tending to this garden, crying in the dirt with the sun beating down on my lowly head, wishing he was still here with me, making love in our ghetto lot.
I buried his bottle of Tylenol back here too—the empty container—the only evidence of what may have been suicide, but he said he had a headache that day. When the doctors told me his stomach was full of Tylenol, I was surprised. I didn’t know that a man with a bad liver would die from taking too many Tylenol. I bought him the bottle that morning before I went to work.
“Do you want one of those $.50 packets or do you need more? Should I get a bottle?”
“Yes, get me a bottle. My head is killing me.” Those were has last words to me.
I planted a few things back here along with the empty red and white bottle to try and ease my own pain—a symbolic act to take away the reminder of his sudden death. A little flower shop near Brooklyn Hospital sold seedlings. I saw the plush green plants while waiting for the bus that April morning on my last visit to his bedside. They were only $1.25 each. I picked up six green pepper plants and four tomato vines on my way home on the day of his passing. I wanted to make him feel comfortable and relaxed when he was released from the intensive care unit. I thought the manicured backyard would cheer him up and make him feel better. He never made it home and those seedlings needed to be planted. It was Spring, a time of re-birth. That is why I worked the garden and did not go to the hospital to verify his death.
The tomatoes and green peppers flourished that first summer here after they turned him into mulch. I was too sick in the heart and head to care enough to pick and eat them. I was too busy being ‘manic’ and experiencing the bliss of full blown psychosis.
Somehow, the garden made it on its own that year. There were bushels of vegetables for the rats to nibble on while I was lost in a sea of a waking dream. I wasn’t just delusional, I was trying to bring him back from the dead and actually belived I could.
Our landlord helped himself to the crops that the rats didn’t take. “You don’t mind that I have given some of your tomatoes and peppers to my mother do you?” He asked.
“No, help yourself, there is plenty,” I said feeling like an indentured servant and as if I were giving away the spirit of the man I forever will love.
If Shawn were alive, he would have loved the garden I planted for him. If I had been alive at the time, I would have enjoyed it too, but we both died that April. This garden was what resurrected both our souls.
It’s gorgeous in Brooklyn today. Bumble bees are flying around already. I wonder where they were all winter. I have officially claimed all the land in this rather large lot that was once nothing but dump for those who lived in this apartment building before Shawn, Tony Vega and I. Whoever lived here before us broke the toilet seat in the bathroom and threw beer bottles back here instead of placing them out front in the trash for recycling.
As the years go by, the garden evolves. At first, I wasn’t able to easily weed the crops that were planted mid-way in the eight- foot wide garden space. I had to step on the dirt between the rows. Plants grow better in soil that is loosened. All farmers know that. I cut the plot into two beds last year, and constructed a path of stone down the center of the 8’ x 12’ raised garden. This summer, I will be able to tend to my crops without stepping on the soil by walking down a stone path that extends the entire length of the backyard.
With all the broken glass slowly removed over the years, it’s now safe to walk barefoot back here. I can weed and hoe without getting my feet dirty.
The apple and cherry trees are budding again. Tips of the pretty white blossoms are slowly starting to appear. The branches tower over a new bench that I made from slate rock—what was left over after I constructed the walkway.
Materials for the stone path and bench came from the basement. A few days after Shawn died, when I first landscaped the backyard, our landlord remodeled the cellar and threw the slate he had removed from the foundation into the backyard—destroying many of the seedlings I had planted in Shawn’s memory. To make room for my bench and to offer more sunlight to my garden, I’ve pruned the apple and cherry trees. I hope that by cutting back those long branches, the trees will produce more fruit. I never had the nerve to cut back those limbs when Black people lived next door. Now that white people live over there, I really don’t care. Their dogs shit on the sidewalks in front of my house.
Last spring, I brought my laptop out here and started to learn to write again following my psychotic break. This is where I learned to use my mind again. I felt close to Shawn out here and despite the risk of being labeled ‘schizophrenic’ again, I spoke openly to his ghost. I knew he was still out here next to the grape vines. Tony Vega is gone too. He moved out the month I was locked away in the psychiatric hospital. Perhaps Shawn’s ghosts was haunting him too and he couldn’t stand this place either. He didn’t even leave me a note telling me how to get in touch with him. The landlord thinks he moved to Los Angeles but that just may be him, burried under the cucumber patch.
He chases the rats away
and this is him showing his teeth
And he loves Starbucks Coffee